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NHL, Marketing Partners Heating Up Activation For 2011 Outdoor Winter Classic

By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor

November 25, 2010: The NHL is planning on smooth skating as its three in-season jewel events approach, beginning with the 2011 Bridgestone Winter Classic on Jan. 1, followed by the All-Star Game Presented by Discover on  Jan. 31 and the Heritage Classic on Feb. 20.

The league has started to activate in earnest behind the Winter Classic, which will feature the Washington Capitals visiting the Pittsburgh Penguins at Heinz Field, home of the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers.

Activation among the NHL's outdoor game partners includes:

• Pittsburgh-based Dick's Sporting Goods has opened a pop-up 5,000 square foot store located in the city's historic Strip District,  dedicated exclusively dedicated to selling official 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic merchandise.

Verizon is running a Rule the Ice VIP Sweepstakes offering a pair of tickets to the game. (Full details here.)

• Recently signed NHL partner Discover is activating as the official card of the Winter Classic with multi-media marketing and special offers for Discover Card members.

Gear exclusive to the 2011 NHL Winter Classic includes this high-end Penguins jersey.Reebok, the official outfitter of the NHL and the Winter Classic, has unveiled special jerseys for the Capitals and Penguins. In addition to being available at the Dick's Sporting Goods pop-up store, the NHL Store Powered by Reebok in New York and other NHL-related outlets, the Capitals’ team store at Kettler Capitals Iceplex is offering NHL Winter Classic apparel as well as savings on customized jerseys.

Bridgestone, now in its third season as the title sponsor of the outdoor Winter Classic, will activate with multi-media marketing to include signage in Pittsburgh and Heinz Field.

• As with past NHL Winter Classics, other marketing partners will have a presence at NHL Spectator Plaza, which will be located next to Heinz Field.

In addition, HBO is putting the finishing touches on its 24/7 series focusing on the game and star players Sidney Crosby and and Alex Ovechkin, Road to the Winter Classic. A 12-minute mini-preview aired on Nov. 20, and teaser spots also are running, including one with Crosby and Ovechkin coming out of the Elf Club and dancing with their heads superimposed on elf bodies.

The HBO series will debut Dec. 15, with ensuing episodes scheduled to debut on the three subsequent Wednesdays: Dec. 22, 29 and Jan. 5. All four episodes will have multiple replay dates on HBO, and the series also will be available on HBO On Demand. (Full details here.)

Sidney Crosby (L) and Alex Ovechkin are top-shelf elves in a promo for HBO's 24/7.“The Winter Classic has become an iconic event in its four years of existence, and the opportunity to host the game here in Pittsburgh, before a packed stadium of 65,000, is a tremendous honor for our organization,” Penguins president David Morehouse said during the Winter Classic press conference. “With the cooperation of our friends at the Pittsburgh Steelers and Heinz Field, it will give us an opportunity to showcase the city to an international audience while celebrating Pittsburgh’s reputation as one of the premier sports towns in the United States.”

Morehouse said the Penguins are planning activities surrounding the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic to include support from the mayor, county executive, VisitPittsburgh tourist bureau, the Steelers and officials at Heinz Field "to make the [event] a truly memorable event with a Pittsburgh touch.”

As the official retailer of the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, Dick's Sporting Goods said its pop-up store "[would] boast the largest assortment of official 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic merchandise in the Pittsburgh area," including replica jerseys, tees, fleece, hats, gift items as well as NHL Winter Classic-branded Reebok footwear for both the Penguins and Capitals.

"[This is] a truly great event that happens to be taking place in our hometown," William Colombo, vice-chairman for Dick's Sporting Goods, said in a statement. "We simply couldn't pass up the opportunity to partner with the NHL and Reebok on establishing a true retail destination within the city that provides fans of both the Penguins and Capitals the best selection of officially licensed NHL merchandise anywhere in town. We think the store will be a great addition and only add to the fans' anticipation of what will surely be another great event in the city of Pittsburgh."

The temporary location will be open now through Dec. 31, at which point Dick's said it would relocate the retail operations to an 800-square foot mobile store location at the NHL Spectator Plaza.

"We simply couldn't pass up the opportunity to partner with the NHL and Reebok on establishing a true retail destination within the city for the Winter Classic."

The first NHL Winter Classic, which was presented by Pepsi division Amp energy drink, featured the Penguins against the host Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 1, 2008, at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The second, Jan. 1, 2009, was played at Wrigley Field between the Detroit Red Wings and host Chicago Blackhawks. The third was on Jan. 1, 2010, at Fenway Park between the Philadelphia Flyers and host Boston Bruins. The 2011 again will be shown on NBC, which has posted some of the highest-rated NHL games on the network in the past 30 years.

All-Star Game weekend will be Jan. 30-31 at RBC Center, home venue for the Carolina Hurricanes. The Heritage Classic will feature the Montreal Canadiens and host Calgary Flames and will be played outdoors at McMahon Stadium.

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